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The Pearl of the Orient - Sri Lanka's bitter civil conflict has belied the country's nickname for half a century. For the tourist, this doesn't mean that Sri Lanka should be erased from the potentials list for this year's holiday; it does, however, mean that some areas of Sri Lanka are to be avoided.
The areas that can be visited pack enough into your itinerary to keep you happy for weeks. Beautiful beaches abound, especially around the southern coast. Steamy tropical rain forests are home to elephants, leopards, dugong and a massive population of migratory birds. The cities offer a glimpse into the influence of Dutch, Portuguese and British colonial times; Galle presents the finest example of an old Dutch fort, whilst the profusion of cricket pitches is the best indicator of Britain's legacy. Mostly, though, Sri Lanka remains in tune with its own heritage; they still make their curries hot enough to turn pale white folk into a crimson red.
That there were people on Sri Lanka in ancient times is proven by several excavations in several parts of the island. These were probably the ancestors of the Wanniyala-Aetto people, also known as Veddahs. Already in ancient times Sri Lanka was a economic powerhouse. It was the major supplier of cinnamon around 1400 BC. Which was amongst other countries exported to Egypt. The island was ruled by kings, and frequently invaded. During the years several ethnic groups settled on the island, and in the third century B.C. Buddhism arrived.
In 1505 the portugese arrived to the island and founded a colony. Two centuries later the Dutch arrived and ruled over much of the island. In the hilly region of the island the kingdom of Kandy remained independent. This lasted until the 1815, when the British who had in the main time taken over from the Dutch in 1796, sacked Kandy, and unified the Island.
During World War II Sri Lanka was an important base for the United Kingdom and the United States, in the battle against Japan. Soon after the war. Sri Lanka gained its independence. Which led to the Sinhalese majority trying to make the new country in a purely Sinhalese run county. One of the most discriminating acts was the enacting of the Official Language Act in 1956. Which made Sinhalese the official language, meaning that many Tamils and Muslims had to resign their jobs. Another attempt was made to make Buddhism the only official religion, excluding Hindu and Islam. The constant discrimination against Tamils led to the desire of Tamils to create their own state in the north of the island. This desire also meant the surfacing of the LTTE who wanted to enforce this state through violence, and a civil war was fought between 1983 and 2009. On both sides many violations of human rights have been reported. In 2009 the civil war ended, leading to more than 300,000 Tamils being displaced and living in camps.
Sri Lanka is located in the Indian Ocean, south from the Indian subcontinent and separated from it by the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait. It covers around 65,000 square kilometres and consists mostly of flat-to-rolling coastal plains, with mountains rising only in the south central part. Amongst these is the highest point Pidurutalagala, reaching 2,524 metres above sea level. There are over 100 rivers in all sizes, but the longest is the Mahaweli River, covering a distance of 335 kilometres. There are over 50 natural waterfalls, the highest of which is Bambarakanda Falls, with at 263 metres. The island's coastline is 1,585 kilometres long.
Lying within the Indomalaya ecozone, Sri Lanka is one of 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world. Although the country is relatively small in size, it has the highest biodiversity density in Asia. Remarkably high proportion of the species among its flora and fauna, 27% of the 3,210 flowering plants and 22% of the mammals (see List), are endemic. Sri Lanka has declared 24 wildlife reserves, which are home to a wide range of native species such as Asian elephants, leopards, sloth bears, the unique small loris, a variety of deer, the purple-faced langur, the endangered wild boar, porcupines and anteaters.
Sri Lanka consists of 9 provinces, subdivided into 25 districts. Below also the main city within each province is listed.
|Central Province||Kandy||Kandy District, Matale District, Nuwara Eliya District|
|Eastern Province||Trincomalee||Trincomalee District, Batticaloa District, Ampara District|
|North Central Province||Anuradhapura||Anuradhapura District, Polonnaruwa District|
|North Western Province||Kurunegala||Puttalam District, Kurunegala District|
|Northern Province||Jaffna||Jaffna District, Killinochchi District, Mullaitivu District, Vavuniya District, Mannar District|
|Sabaragamuwa Province||Ratnapura||Kegalle District, Ratnapura District|
|Southern Province||Galle||Galle District, Hambantota District, Matara District|
|Uva Province||Badulla||Badulla District, Moneragala District|
|Western Province||Colombo||Gampaha District, Colombo District, Kalutara District|
There are plenty of opportunities for the adventurous traveller in Sri Lanka. Climbing Adams peak (Sripada) offers a 6.5-kilometre-long hike and is largely done at night.
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There are also lots of wild parks in the country. Yala and Wilpattu are the largest ones and if you're lucky you can spot elephants, leopards, bears, deer and wild buffaloes. Sinharaja is one of the oldest rain forests in the world. Horton Plains National Park is a large 3,160 hectare park in the highlands of the country. This is the highest plateau in Sri Lanka and was declared as a National Park in 1988.
Sinharaja Forest Reserve
The Sinharaja Forest Reserve is located in the southwest of the country and contains most of the country's primary tropical rainforest. More than 60% of the trees are endemic and many of them are considered rare. Endemic wildlife includes many birds and over 50% of Sri Lanka's endemic species of mammals and butterflies. To end, there are smaller creatures including insects, reptiles and some rare amphibians. For this reason the park is on the Unesco World Heritage List.
Yala National Park
Yala National Park is the most visited and second largest national park in Sri Lanka. Actually it consists of five blocks, two of which are now open to the public, plus adjoining parks. The blocks have individual names also, like Ruhuna National Park for the (best known) block 1 and Kumana National Park or 'Yala East' for the adjoining area. It is situated in the southeast region of the country, and lies in the Southern Province and Uva Province. The park covers 979 square kilometres and is located about 300 kilometres from Colombo. Yala NP was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1900, and, along with Wilpattu it was one of the first two national parks in Sri Lanka, having been designated in 1938. The park is best known for its variety of wild animals. It is important for the conservation of Sri Lankan Elephants and aquatic birds. There are six national parks and three wildlife sanctuaries in the vicinity of Yala NP. The park is situated in the dry semi-arid climatic region and rain is received mainly during the northeast monsoon. Yala NP hosts a variety of ecosystems ranging from moist monsoon forests to freshwater and marine wetlands. It is one of the 70 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Sri Lanka. Yala harbours 215 bird species including six endemic species of Sri Lanka. The number of mammals that has been recorded from the park is 44, and it has one of the highest leopard densities in the world. The area around Yala has hosted several ancient civilisations. Two important pilgrim sites, Sithulpahuwa and Magul Vihara, are situated within the park. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami caused severe damage on the Yala National Park and 250 people died in its vicinity. The number of visitors has been on the rise since 2009 after the security situation in the park improved.
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Sri Lanka contains some beautiful beaches including Hikkaduwa, Benthota and Unawatuna on the southern cost. These beaches are safe for swimming, surfing, diving and other water related sports. An impressive coral reef can also be found at Hikkaduwa. Negombo north of the capital Colombo attracts many package tourists from Europe as well.
There are 100 rivers in this small country and more than 10,000 'wawa' (man made lakes). Some of them are more than 3,000 acres. Most of them were built by the ancient kings more than 1,500 years ago. Sri Lanka is one of the oldest civilizations in the world with a history going back over 10,000 years. There are ancient capitals all over the country. Some of them are Anuradapura, Polonnaruwa, Yapahuewa, Kandy, Kurunagala, Dambadeniya & Jayawardanapura. A lot of the culture is based on Buddhism. Ancient temples and ‘Dagaba’s can be found all around the country. The Jethawana, Abhayagiri and Ruwanwali Dagaba’s are even larger than the great Pyramids of Egypt.
The Ancient cities of Polonnaruwa and Sigiriya are on the Unesco World Heritage List as well and are of important historical and cultural value for the country. Polonnaruwa was the second capital of Sri Lanka after the destruction of Anuradhapura in 993. Sigiriya is famous for its 370-metre-high granite peak, called the Lion's Peak, which can be climbed by stairs. Kandy is home to a tooth of Buddha as well.
Anuradhapura and Kandy are the two sacred cities on the UNESCO list. The first one was the first capital that flourished for 1,300 years and was abandoned after an invasion in 993. This sight with its palaces, monasteries and monuments is one of the cultural highlights in the country. Read more about the second one in the Kandy article. Galle is an old town with fortifications including a Dutch fort. It is a perfect place to combine culture and beaches.
The major festivals in Sri Lanka:
Other major events:
Sri Lanka has a tropical climate, meaning hot and humid weather year round. Temperatures average around 30 °C during the day and around 20 °C at night, slightly more at the coast, slightly lower more inland. In the mountains it can get a bit chilly though. Rainfall is possible year round, but is higher during the April to June and September to December period. January-February and July-August are somewhat drier.
Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB), also known as Katunayake International Airport and Colombo Bandaranaike International Airport, is the main gateway to Colombo and in fact of Sri Lanka as a whole.
Sri Lankan Airlines is the national airline of Sri Lanka. It operates international flights to and from Abu Dhabi, Bangalore, Bangkok, Beijing, Chennai, Coimbatore, Doha, Dubai, Delhi, Dammam, Frankfurt, Goa, Hong Kong, Hyderabad, Kuala Lumpur, London Heathrow, Male, Paris Charles de Gaulle, Karachi, Kuwait, Singapore and Tokyo Narita. Other airlines serving the country are Emirates, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Martinair, Condor, Cathay Pacific and lowcoast airlines Air Arabia from Sharjah. Expo Aviation operates many charter service to and from the following destinations: Abu Dhabi, Australia, Bangalore, Bangkok, Beirut, Cairo, Kozhikode, Chennai, Chittagong, Kochi, Dhaka, Dubai, Hyderabad, Islamabad, Jakarta, Jeddah, Karachi, Kathmandu, Kuala Lumpur, Lahore, Malé, Manila, Mumbai, Muscat, several cities in Africa and Europe, Sharjah, Singapore, Tiruchirapalli and Thiruvananthapuram. Domestically, Expo Aviation and Aero Lanka offer scheduled flights to Jaffna and Trincomalee from Colombo. Chartered flights are also available.
Mihin Lanka is a lowcost airline which focuses on providing low cost flights from Colombo to Dubai and a number of cities in India. Its future base would have been Weerawila International Airport (WRZ), which would have been ready in 2009. However, the project faced significant environmental concerns, and was eventually scrapped. The site of the proposed airport was moved to Mattala, Hambantota, and a new Hambantota International Airport/Mattala International Airport is currently under construction there.
Expo Aviation and Aero Lanka offer scheduled flights to Jaffna and Trincomalee from Colombo. Chartered flights are also available. Deccan operates flights by plane or helicopter to the major tourist locations and can save hours in road transport but is very expensive.
There are airport taxis and vans in operation. They are cheaper for transporting you and your luggage to or from the airport.
There are trains connecting the major southern cities, the central, the east and Colombo. Popular routes include Colombo to Kandy vv. At present, there are no trains going beyond Anuradhapura to the northern places like Jaffna.
Travelling by car is the best option for getting around Sri Lanka. You have the freedom to stop when and where you want. Hiring a vehicle with driver is advisable, as it is best to go about with a driver familiar with the roads and you have a company that you can hold accountable for to ensure a safe drive for you. If you want to drive yourself, it is possible and several companies offer cars at the international airport and resort areas. Most roads are tarred, traffic drives on the left and you need an international driving permit.
Taxis, depending on the distance, can be reasonably cheap within Colombo city limits. There are numerous cabs now in service in the city. Some have a starting rate above which prices are added by the km and others start off from zero and go by the km. The latter is especially useful for shorter distances.
Public buses are the cheapest mode of public transport. However, they can be quite crowded. As a tourist, if you don't need to be travelling in the morning or evening or afternoon rush hours, then you can find that travelling during the in-between hours can be very cheap as well as giving a good glimpse of the city.
Intercity buses start and end in Colombo from the Fort area. You can get on one in-between but if you want a seat, better to go to the Fort bus stand. There are two stands: one for the inter-city buses that travel shorter distances, less than four hours and the the other for longer distances. Each city has a main bus stand where inter-city buses depart from or arrive at.
Visit the Central Transport Board for more information about companies and fares.
A popular mode of transportation for both tourists and local residents is the three-wheeler/auto/ tuk-tuk. It is a convenient means of getting around within a city, when one does not want to go on the crowded public buses or more expensive taxis. Just be sure to agree on the price before you get onboard, as some drivers have a tendency to overcharge if you ask for the price at the end of the drive. It is usually also safer to get an auto from the stand that is usually located at the top of the streets, as that means that they are registered under the auto-drivers group of that area and should any misfortune befall, it will be much easier to locate the area and auto.
There are no scheduled passenger services around Sri Lanka, but chartered a boat for diving and fishing is a popular way. Of course, you can also join a tour.
Citizens from the following countries do not require a visa to enter Sri Lanka for a stay of up to 30 days.
See also Money Matters
Sinhala and Tamil are the official languages of Sri Lanka. English is a working language for most private sector enterprises based in Colombo but out of Colombo, the local languages are used. However, as a tourist, one can get by with English as usually basic words and phrases in English are generally known to all, as English is taught as a third language in local schools.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Sri Lanka. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Sri Lanka) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Sri Lanka. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Malaria is prevalent in the country, mainly in the north. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Dengue sometimes occurs as well.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
There are government hospitals in all the main towns of Sri Lanka. The medical facilities and doctors will be some of the best available in that particular district. However, as these medical services are provided free of charge by the Government, there are some drawbacks: very long queues, less maintenance of public spaces within the hospital etc. There are numerous private hospitals and health care clinics, which requires payment for service provided and these are generally not affordable for those living in the average income level in the country. Based on feedback from people from that district, one can choose one of these service providers if one wants faster service. The Colombo National Hospital is currently considered the best public hospital in Sri Lanka and Nawaloka Hospitals Ltd. the best private hospital.
It is advisable to get malaria shots or use mosquito repellants when travelling around Sri Lanka as the last decade has seen numerous mosquito-borne diseases spread through the country, such as dengue, chikungunya etc.
See also Travel Safety
Internet cafes are available in all the cities and these are cheap and easy to access. Most hotels have internet access as well but are relatively expensive.
There are various internet service providers (Sri Lanka Telecom, Dialog, Mobitel etc.) providing different packages: ADSL broadband, dial-up, WiFi. Please contact a service provider to learn more about the packages and prices.
See also International Telephone Calls
Sri Lanka Telecom is the major landline phone service provider in the country. However, getting an IDD connection requires a deposit. The mobile phone service providers are Dialog, Mobitel, Tigo and the recently introduced Airtel.
CDMA phones are a good option if travelling to less touristy places as the mobile phone coverage is not available in some parts.
Each city/town has a main post office and the villages will have access to sub post offices, either at the village or nearby village. Local post, through normal mail, is cheap and fast. However, to ensure that the post has reached recipient, it is better to send by registered post which will allow you to have a reference number which you can later use to check with your post office that your mail has reached its destination.
There are local courier services. Aramex, Pronto are some of the ones in Colombo and they deliver mail the same day or overnight. For better tracking and fast services, DHL, TNT provide a good service but are expensive.
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Ask PuruS a question about Sri Lanka
I am an Indian who has been to Sri Lanka and loved the country. I can help you if you want to know about the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka and these places: Kandy, Anuradhapura, Sigiriya, Pollonaruwa and Dambulla.
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Ask wije1974 a question about Sri Lanka
It's home! I am keen to help anyone who may be planning a trip here, as there is SO much to see and do - as well as those hidden, off the tourist-trail things that you wont find in any tour guide. I look forward to hearing from you. I'm a part time tour operator with my own car.
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all the ways
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Tips on places to visit and accommodation
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